KP has been playing like a unicorn again and it couldn’t happen at a better time. If KP & Luka can combine their powers, the back end of the season should be very fun.
Over the past week, Kristaps Porzingis has played like the player the Mavs traded for almost exactly a year ago. Since January 31st, KP has averaged 35 points and 12 rebounds on 53.3% shooting from the field and 38.9% from 3 point range. THIS is who the Mavs want to be paired with Luka. Granted it hasn’t translated to winning basketball as the Mavs are playing very shorthanded at the moment with Luka, Powell, JJ, and Seth all down, but it shows what the Mavs CAN be once everyone gets through the much needed All-Star break.
This year has become about the meteoric rise of Luka Doncic who has gone from Rookie of the Year to potential MVP candidate in under 6 months, but before the season started, it was about the tandem of Luka and Porzingis learning to play together. KP publicly stated during Luka’s red hot run that it’s Luka’s show and he’s on a crazy streak that you just don’t get in the way of, especially if you’re winning. And the rest of the Mavs definitely followed suit.
Luka’s usage rate is currently 3rd highest in the league after Giannis and Harden at 36.1%. This means that when Luka is on the court, he is responsible for over a third of EVERYTHING that happens on the Mavericks.
For perspective, KP sits at 49th in the league at 25.5%.
However, it seems as though this load is wearing on the 20-year-old, who has seen his shooting fall off over the course of January. Outside of a DYNAMITE 3pt shooting game in Portland on 1/17 where he went 8-12 from 3, he’s shot 21.9% from 3 since January 8th. And over that same span, his free throw shooting has dropped to 60.5% from his season average of 76.3%. This is not to say Luka is bad or Luka has lost his magic, but it shows that being one of the most used players in the sport and competing at the highest level is hard for a 20 yr old to shoulder.
It would behoove him and the Mavs to look at what he’s doing and what the team can do better to support their perennial superstar so that the team can excel AND keep him healthy long term for this season and beyond.
This is where KP comes in.
It is no secret that this season KP has looked hesitant or rusty at different points, but it seems that he’s found his stride both over the last few games without Luka and the 11 games picking up where Luka has fallen off some. This is what good teams and good teammates do. It’s a long season and good players seem to step up when their teammates need them. Over the 11 games we just looked at where Luka has been either down or out, KP is shooting over 38% from 3, which is a return to his career average and has been driving with much more success than earlier in the season.
KP is a rhythm player and has been asked to step into more minutes and touch the ball far more with Luka out and it’s translated into much better individual performances from the Mavs’ highest-paid player. He looks confident, he looks in charge, and he’s not in his head which is a major factor for KP.
Now, obviously, when Luka returns, he’s going to go right back to running point and directing the offense, but the hope is that he’s looking at what KP is doing WITHOUT him and strategizing both with the coaching staff and in his own mind how to better maximize KP’s abilities with his own. Being 20 and being the reigning rookie of the year on a 33 win team after being the Euroleague MVP at 18, Luka is probably a little TOO used to being the guy and the ONLY guy.
When his team struggles, he puts the team on his back. When his late-game heroics don’t work, he shoulders the loss.
He’s been critical of himself for sometimes taking the hero shot rather than making the “right” play at the end of a game. Hopefully what he’s seeing from his teammates in his absence makes him realize that he can start deferring to these guys who are playing confident ball even without him playing his All-Star best.
Trust is hard to earn in sports, much less at the highest level. Luka must learn the ebb and flow of when to take over or when to let someone else run with it and the same goes for KP. Porzingis is playing very well in rhythm with the ball in his hands more. For perspective, his usage rate jumps from 49th to 16th if you just look at the last 3 games while Luka has been out. KP has not been nearly as successful this season when playing more off of the ball, which is obviously when Luka has the ball. The two can’t have the ball at the same time, so it would seem that both need to give a little control over to the other in order to carry the Mavs into a successful playoff run.
Late game situations have been the Mavs absolute Achilles’ heel this season and it’s hard not to think that the two top talents on the team working in tandem rather than respectfully hoping the other one has it on lockdown might be the solution. If KP and Luka, and the coaching staff, can figure out the magical mixture that supercharges both KP and Luka on the court together, this team might look at Captain America at the end of Endgame: unstoppable.
One player is 20, the other is 24 and coming off a 2 yr absence. Both have been pros for a similar amount of time if you include their European play. They are both still used to be the #1, #2, & #3 options for their teams until this year, and as KP has stated many times, “It’s gonna take time.”
It would seem now that KP has his legs under him again, his focus can shift from his mechanics to his chemistry and supercharge this offense NEXT to Luka. And Luka has a teammate he should be able to rely on more to keep him fresh.
Peaking at the right time is paramount to playoff success and it would seem the Mavs’ pump is primed and ready for a red hot run to the postseason.
Featured Image: USA Today Sports/Jerome Miron